Sunday, September 21, 2008


21 September, Belizean independence. I didn’t know until this year that among the Central American nations there is a former British colony—and one that only gained its independence in 1981. While I realise that this is just ignorance on my part, I also think that it’s part of growing up in Australia: you tend to hear about the world’s large countries wherever you are, but, barring a major event like an invasion, you really only hear about the smaller countries from your own region. The current population estimate is just over 300,000.

Before Europeans came along, Belize was part of the territory of the Maya—the Mopan Maya were the original inhabitants, and some of the Maya still occupied the area into the 1500s. In fact, when the Spanish tried to colonise the area, they gave up after a Maya rebellion.

But then came English buccaneers. Pirates! They settled when they were seeking a sheltered place to use as a base for attaching Spanish ships. Such an illustrious group! Eventually there was an agreement drawn up where the British settlers could occupy the area and cut logwood if they’d give up piracy. The British government initially allowed settlers to establish their own government, fearing that if they acknowledged the settlement as a British colony, the Spanish would attack. It wasn’t until 1786 that the British appointed a superintendent.

While the rest of Central America separated from Spain, Belize—then known as British Honduras—stayed under British control, and was officially declared a British colony in 1862.

The official name-change to Belize came in 1973. While things were moving towards independence, Guatemala slowed down the process somewhat. Guatemala has claimed throughout Belize’s history that it has sovereignty over the region. Still, Belize got there in the end. Nonetheless, there is an ongoing border dispute between the two nations.

And the poem? This piece is by Joey García. I found it online here.

Choosing Camps

In my California school I heard tales of men,
women, children lying on the earth,
sparrow arms tucked into flannel sacks,
wagging heads lulled to slumber. I asked
my immigrant father if I, too, could bed beneath the stars,
silent as a stone
inhaling luminosity.

He laughed as deep and thick
as the Belizean jungle, where he had labored
as a logger for a dollar a day to surpass palmetto
hut poverty. He laughed at North Americans
with roofs and Macy's mattresses, who slept instead
on the rigid earth, pebbles caught in spines, trying
to call it vacation. He laughed at their dog noses and
damp clothing.
Then he painted

a galaxy on the ceiling over
my four-poster bed. Tucking me in,
he pointed out jaguar spirits and monkey gods.

When I was sure he was asleep

I slipped away

to plunge my head into the liquid night
and pretend I was stone.

— Joey García

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